The Grapes of Wrath (Ford, 1940)


What to say about this pictorial, breath-taking call to arms that hasn’t already been said? Tom Joad’s penchant for brutal violence stands out more than anything else after this most recent viewing, and the evolution of his physicality, beginning with the meaningless drunken brawl/murder that gets him imprisoned, which transitions to his meaningful lethal blow in defense of Casey, seems to be a key point. The sudden violence first stems from Joad’s weakness to liquor, then his own realization about the injustices of unfair wages and labor tactics, a different kind of Kool Aid that produces just as fiery an outcome. As Joad escapes in the final scene, Ford shows his hero in extreme-long shot, a faceless shadow framed by an endless mountainside, a semi-religious icon of perseverance and morality striving forward to preach the gospel of leftist politics. Too bad he’s had to kill twice to find the lord. It’s an interesting dichotomy that complicates Joad’s role as a pure hero of the working man.

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